Ni no Kuni: An Accessible JRPG For All
It’s taken me a while to get this review going, and I think it’s because I’m unsure how I feel about Ni no Kuni. Even after 60 hours. [Edit] Having given it some thought, Ni no Kuni is a beautiful and interesting game, but it feels significantly dumbed-down in comparison to other JRPGs I’ve enjoyed. Therein lies the issue.
My first 20 hours or so with Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch were mostly positive, with my immediate gripe being the battle system (I’ll touch upon this later). It follows a traditional JRPG story-line; pre-pubescent boy discovers magic, mission to save the world etc. In this case, Oliver’s mother dies after saving her son from drowning, giving Oliver (the protagonist) a motive to travel to “another world” – a world controlled by an evil wizard – to find his mother’s soulmate, potentially saving her and bringing his mother back to life. Got that?
The fact so many JRPGs share a similar narrative doesn’t irk me (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), so I never ‘mark down’ a JRPG based on this. My only issue with the story-line is that it had potential to tug at my heart strings, but didn’t. This may be because I have a cold, robot heart.
Animated by Studio Ghibli, you can imagine just how gorgeous the visuals are. Personally, I enjoy JRPGs because they transport me to a whimsical world, and Ni no Kuni is no exception.
The adventure begins in Oliver’s hometown of Motorville, where I eagerly began probing every character in an attempt to trigger a side quest or two. My travels hadn’t long been underway for me to realise, though, that – unlike other JRPGs – there isn’t much incentive to conversing with every character. There is an abundant of side quests throughout the game, but the characters who initiate a side quest are visibly highlighted on the map as a glowing dot. This takes the anticipation out of exploring and talking to people, which is one of the aspects I love about JRPGs.
The battle system took a while to grow on me, but this could be because of my preference for turn-based RPGs. As your party grows to three people (plus Familiars), battles can feel quite hectic, with everyone throwing punches or casting spells simultaneously. It was only when I moved onto higher level enemies I found the battles engaging. That’s not to say Ni no Kuni is easy, but I would have preferred more of a tactical angle with the battle system. I found resorting my party to “all out defence” and single handedly attacking enemies worked a treat, meaning I never really had to deviate from this winning tactic.
There always seems to be (at least) one irritating character in a JRPG. In Ni no Kuni, I’d award this to Drippy – Lord High Lord of the Fairies, a funny fairy full of comical quips and an amusing accent (I thought it was Geordie, apparently it’s Welsh. I’m bad with accents). He isn’t a playable character, but he follows the party throughout the entire game. In some instances I found him useful – even entertaining – especially in battle with his “Tidy Tears” spell (healing the entire party at particularly rocky moments), but Drippy ultimately contributed to Ni no Kuni’s downfall. Drippy tells you what spell to use, Drippy pre-empts you when a boss unleashes a devestating attack. In the beginning, this is welcome guidance… but after 60 hours of playing the game and getting a good hang of things, Drippy’s ‘advice’ is nothing more than a nuisance.
The side quests, and especially bounty hunts, kept me amused and busy for much of the game. Usually I find RPGs quite overwhelming, with side quests being spat out in quick succession, but Ni no Kuni always feels ‘manageable’. The inclusion of Stamp Cards is a good one, with players receiving stamps for completing bounty hunts or errands, cashing them in for rewards (running faster, gaining more XP in battle etc). This is a huge incentive for doing more side quests, especially if I see I’m close to completing my Stamp Card and cashing in on a reward.
Lastly, I wasn’t affected by Oliver’s loss. And I should be. He’s a kid and his maw died. That’s sad, he needs a hug. My inability to empathise with Oliver has nothing to do with the cartoony visuals, yet I can’t put my finger on what it is. Lacklustre character or plot development?
I think it’s obvious my feelings toward Ni no Kuni are mixed. It is a beautiful game, one I assume will keep any JRPG fan entertained, but it borders on being too accessible. With an overview of which characters will initiate – and even fulfil – side quests, and constant prodding from Mr Drippy, not to mention a… fairly painless final boss (I only died once, and didn’t need to do any hard grinding to face the boss), I’d summarise Ni no Kuni as a fun JRPG – perfect for casual gamers, but one hardcore JRPG fans will likely forget a year or so down the line. Unlike Lost Odyssey. I still think about that game…
In conclusion: I liked Ni no Kuni. I’d even recommend Ni no Kuni, but it likely won’t be the best JRPG you’ll play.